By Lynn Lake 


            When Clyde informed Ruth that his mother ‘wanted to drop by for a short visit’, her resulting scream could be heard clear across town. The last time ‘Mother’ Agnes had dropped by for a short visit, she’d occupied the Crandell house for three solid weeks. The lash marks from her insults were still healing in Ruth’s mind.

            Because when Agnes wasn’t constantly grousing and griping about this and that, him and her, and ‘them on the TV’, she was saving her best shots for her daughter-in-law. Particularly as it related to Ruth’s wardrobe.

            Agnes had once worked in the ‘ladies wear’ section of a department store in a previous century, and as a result, she fancied herself an expert on women’s fashion, among other things. Her fashion sense actually ran more along the lines of Queen Victoria’s than Jean Paul Gaultier’s, but that didn’t stop her from telling Ruth just what she was wearing wrong, and how.

            Ruth felt, and told her husband, that there should be a toxic warning symbol tattooed on the woman’s lips.

            “Oh, it’ll be fine, I’m sure,” Clyde reassured his wife, patting her shoulder. “She’s probably mellowed quite a lot since her last stay, I’ll wager.”

            “Right, how much do you want to bet?” Ruth inquired. “She’s like fine wine, I suppose? Only her cork’s been off for years and the older she gets the more vinegary she gets.”

            “There, there, love,” Clyde soothed.

            “Oh, you don’t mind because you’re her ‘little angel’,” Ruth went on, glaring at her husband, “but what about me?”


            “That outfit’s a little … off-season, don’t you think, dear?” Agnes offered without asking, as soon as she’d darkened the Crandell doorway.

            Ruth glanced down at her t-shirt and shorts, then smiled stiffly. “And how was your trip, then? Bus didn’t overturn, hmm?”

            Agnes directed her son to take her three suitcases, two hat boxes, and one hissing pet transporter into the spare bedroom – the room Ruth had suggested they brick up after the woman’s last visit. She sniffed the air. “Have you got a gas leak, dear?”

            “How long do you think you’ll be staying?” Ruth gritted.

            Agnes tidied up her hair in the hall mirror. Then she dusted the mirror with one of the tissues she kept permanently rolled up her sleeve. “Oh, I don’t know, dear,” she eventually responded, her face pruning up as her eyes swept over her daughter-in-law from head-to-toe. She looked over at Clyde and smiled. “I try to spend as much time with my loved ones as I can these days. I’m not getting any younger, you know.”

            And you won’t be getting any older, either, Ruth thought to herself, if you park it for more than one week, lady. I’ll see to it personally.


            The next day was Sunday, and Ruth was already plenty in need of the Lord giving her strength. But, of course, Agnes had to tag along to church with her.

            “You know that blouse doesn’t go at all with those pants, don’t you, dear?” she commented, as Ruth and Clyde stood around in the hallway waiting for her to get her hat on. “The colors are all wrong.”

            Ruth’s face went the color red. “Now, listen-”

            Clyde laid a restraining hand on his wife’s arm. “I think you look wonderful, honey,” he murmured. “You both look wonderful. The minister’ll have a tough time concentrating on his sermon today.” He laughed.

            He could afford to laugh, Ruth thought, he wasn’t going to church. He was staying home to watch the football game.

            “Women really shouldn’t wear pants,” Agnes went on. “Unless they’ve got something to hide, of course.” She glanced at Ruth’s rather stumpy legs. “A woman should dress like a woman, I always say, not a man.”

            Ruth balled her fists. “I’ve had about-”

            “You really should try to keep your wife out of your wardrobe, dear,” Agnes said to Clyde, reaching up and pinching one of his chubby cheeks.

            He grinned at his mother, then regarded his wife much as a Pompeian once regarded Vesuvius. “Uh, I-I’ve made reservations at the fanciest restaurant in town for dinner tonight,” he said hastily. “For my two special ladies.”

            Agnes smiled sweetly at her son. “You’re so very thoughtful, aren’t you, dear.” She smiled sourly at her daughter-in-law. “It will be a pleasure – eating out.”

            “I think she’s actually warming up to you,” Clyde whispered to Ruth, as they watched Agnes walk down the front steps.

            Ruth snorted, reaching into her purse to make sure her blood pressure medication was still there. 

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